November 14, 2011 | Commentary on Political Thought
Now comes an opportunity for House and Senate Republicans to push a strong Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA), but not only have House Republicans tossed an interception on the BBA, but they also appear to have preemptively surrendered a touchdown to the liberals on tax policy as part of the Super Committee negotiations.
If conservatives want to win, they should take the BBA and the $1.2 trillion in cuts mandated by the Super Committee directly to the American people, who tend to reward politicians who fight tax hikes and push for deep cuts to the federal government. Yet they seem intent on letting this fumble take its course.
Weak Balanced Budget Amendment
Last week, House Republicans tentatively agreed to put on the floor a weakened version of a BBA, H.J. Res. 2, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R.-Va.). They are trying to get enough Democrats to support a weaker BBA so that they can get some BBA passed by the needed two-thirds vote. Conservatives may want to consider fighting this.
The debt-limit deal passed by Congress locked in a House and Senate vote on a BBA. The law states that before the end of this year “the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively, shall vote on passage of a joint resolution," the title of which is as follows: "Joint resolution proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” But the law made no provisions forcing a vote on a strong or weak BBA, and it seems as if there will be three different versions of a BBA considered by the House and Senate as early as next week.
The Goodlatte BBA would subject an unbalanced budget and a debt-limit increase to a “three-fifths” vote of both the House and Senate. It also has a provision that allows for tax increases “approved by a majority of the whole number of each House.” This provision may make tax-increase votes on the House suspension calendar (requiring a two-thirds vote) and Senate points of order (requiring 60 votes) unconstitutional. Goodlatte might have unwittingly made it easier to raise taxes with his version of a BBA.
Another version, sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) and Mike Lee (R.-Utah), provides for the cap on the size of government to be 18% of the gross domestic product, forces a supermajority vote for tax increases, and strips from courts the power to raise taxes. Hatch-Lee (S.J. Res. 10) addresses the problem of increased taxes and bloated government.
Sen. Mark Udall (D.-Colo.) has the Senate Democrats’ version, S.J. Res. 24. The Udall BBA exempts Social Security and would enshrine class warfare into the U.S. Constitution. It contains the following provision: “Congress shall not pass any bill that provides a net reduction in individual income taxes for those with incomes over $1 million."
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, feels that the strategy of going with a weak BBA is a huge mistake.
Norquist believes that the smart strategy is to roll out the tough BBA and force the Democrats to vote against it: “While many moderate Democrats will vote for a weak BBA, most Democrats will vote against a robust BBA, and that opens those in moderate districts to the possibility of defeat on this issue.” Grover is correct. Once you force the Blue Dogs to vote against a strong BBA, and some lose an election over the issue, the others will then fall into line and vote for the strong version the next time around.
Super Committee Sellout
Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do. Republicans on the Super Committee offered a $300 billion tax increase over the next 10 years in exchange for lowering top income tax rates. That's right, Republicans supported a tax increase. They are not good students of history.
The Super Committee is wrestling with the budget and the debt, and has to report a bill just before Thanksgiving if members can come to a bipartisan agreement. Democrats and Republicans have reportedly put offers on the table. If no deal is cut, then programs such as the defense budget will come under spending caps and be reduced.
Democrats are doing everything they can to make Republicans a little pregnant on supporting tax increases. The Democrats are hoping that Republicans slit their wrists on the tax issue so that they can roll into the next election with a Republican Party on the record in favor of increasing taxes on Americans during a time of economic crisis.
President Ronald Reagan supported a tax increase to purchase cuts in spending. The promised cuts never materialized, and Reagan later said he regretted the deal. The Republicans of today should learn from Reagan's mistake.
Brian Darling is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Human Events